Finding My Way Back to Me

Wrapped up in the warmth of moment you know doesn’t come around very often, I closed my eyes and listened to the gentle crashing of the waves.

My best friend was breathing deeply next to me, slowly falling into the slumber the comes so easy when you’ve spent the day absorbing the sun and the fun of a place that’s not your home and relishing in the whirlwind of a few days that came and went faster than either of us thought they would. I felt the sand blow up against my sunburnt calves and the subtle spray of the ocean barely touching my skin, and I exhaled the biggest breath I have in what feels like forever.

I opened my eyes and tried to count the seemingly endless stars above me – their tapestry fascinating me and reminding me of the Southern upbringing I’m continuously thankful for. Their flicker and gaze didn’t remind me of the city I love – in fact, I hadn’t missed much about New York in the last five days. My Mexican oasis with my dearest friend in Manhattan had arrived at the most serendipitous time and more than anything else, it got me away from the constant rush and pressure of a life that yes, I created, but also, I was exhausted of. As difficult as it is to look out from underneath my rose-colored glasses and to unravel the picturesque story I’ve depicted of my grand escape from North Carolina to find success in the Big Apple – the reality of my life isn’t always so, well, peachy.

Over the last few months, I’ve not only grown frustrated and tired, wondering – and worrying – that my day-to-day would always be unfulfilling and unoriginal. Taking the same subway to the same place and back to the same apartment, walking a pup for probably the thousandth time, going on yet another boring date that might result in a kiss I’ll be sorry I wasted lipstick on. While I’m one of the rare breeds who does enjoy the challenge and stress of my job – when last Thursday rolled around and M and I’s flight to Mexico was about to take flight – I took great pleasure in turning off my Blackberry.

But, laying there in that cabana bed at 9 at night, equally exhausted and entirely at ease, full of food that wasn’t great and drinks that were, I didn’t concentrate on those negative thoughts I have let consume my focus lately. I didn’t think about the mess of my apartment or my mind. Or my heart. I didn’t think about turning 25 in September and the fear that another two years will come and go without another love to call my own since Mr. P. I didn’t think of him either. I didn’t think of my lack of savings or idea of my next steps or my next changes or my next choices. I didn’t think of my constant need to boost my own confidence and stop comparing myself to other ladies. I didn’t think about being good enough or pretty enough or thin enough or smart enough or resilient enough – or anything enough.

Instead, I felt my eyes well up with tears with so much thanks for everything I’ve been taking for granted.

For every last blessing I haven’t been counting, for every wish that I once had that has actually, truly and sometimes incredibly, has come true. For the best friends, like M, who remind me of the beauty in everything, and especially in patience. For the paychecks that make living in New York possible from a job – a career – that supports and encourages me. For the love of a little dog that keeps me warm at night and smiling on the street at 7 a.m., without makeup, without any care at all. For the love I’ve been lucky to experience — even if it has washed away like the tide in front of me, I do know that the tide always comes back. For the apartment that keeps me cool when it’s hot, warm when it’s not, and the friendly folks who make me cleaner than I really am. For this blog that lets me express everything I can never verbalize in any manner that makes sense. For the family who may be very far away, but never that far from my heart.

For this five-day escape that made me realize how much I needed to get away from the city…. and also from myself.

This vacation was what I needed, even if I didn’t expect it to be as luxurious or wonderful as it turned out to be. I had not only needed the company of someone who knows me, who forgives me, who reminds me to relax (and take more tequila shots) – but I had needed to let go of it all. I needed those waves – and those margaritas – to wash away my funk. To cleanse me of my selfish attitude, of my bitter thoughts, of my fears that have no place in the back or the front of my mind. I had needed the sun to warm my heart up again – to remind it of what it feels like to be free and though imperfect (and maybe a little scarred), still vibrant, still full of the love that makes me…. me. I had needed space to recognize the gifts I’ve been given, the people who make me whole, the hope that makes me feel alive.

And underneath that moonlight, talking about nothing at all, I felt that hope come back to me. I felt my faith rekindle and my soul bubble with happiness. As we walked away to our beautiful home-away-from-home (complete with an outdoor shower and Jacuzzi!), I said a little prayer to remember this tiny piece of time. To remember the release I can give myself, to remember how to let go of the bad and feel the good again. To remember to breathe.

Because even though vacations (sadly) can’t last forever and like all important things, moments pass and change, just like friendships, just like your hopes and dreams, just like the best (and strongest) of loves – if you’re able to let yourself learn and let go, then you’re able to do anything. If you’re able to find gratitude in everything and anything, then you can always be under that cascading drapery of stars, you can always hear the calm and sudden rush of the ocean, you can always feel the sun on your back, you can always feel the comfort of the people you love near you.

You can always find your way back to yourself, even if you’ve been missing for a long time.

Last Single Girl Standing

Waiting for my doorbell to ring the day after New Year’s, I anxiously anticipated the arrival of one of my dearest best friends, M. We were ordering cheap Chinese, exchanging Christmas presents and catching up about the 10-plus days we spent apart – something we never, ever do except during the holidays.

She’s a girl who is as much fun as she’s dependable and honest – always giving you the support you want with a side of healthy reality that you need. We’ve been through the trenches together, had a knockdown, drag-out, three-hour-long fight in my bathroom — telling each other what we really think — helped each other move and build furniture, pick the other one up when they couldn’t walk home (whoops) and brought pizza when a breakup was enough to break us. New York has always felt like home to me, but it wasn’t until I found my partner in crime – and for sharing margs and guac weekly – that I really felt like I could settle into my city. There’s something about having a best friend that lets you let down your guard and know that even if the guys suck, the job is tough or the tummies pooch – you have someone who will love you unconditionally, make sure you get over yourself and remember how great you are, too.

Maybe it’s my hidden jealous side that I try to keep at bay or just the fear of losing something that’s precious to me – but I was nervous about M coming over that night. I knew we’d have a great time because we always do – yet I also knew I was about to receive a piece of news that I didn’t quite want to hear. And not because it was bad news (it was in fact exciting and amazing) but because I knew it would change things.

You see, M has always been my single friend.

The gal who encouraged me to dance a little more, stay out a little longer, give that short guy a chance or walk out of a date if it was bad (and meet her for martinis after). The one who would let me analyze everything to death and talk it into the ground, and then match my stories with ones as terrible as my own. If not more awful at times. The one who was there to swap our silly dating troubles, edit each other’s online dating profiles and talk about how weird it’d be when one of us got a boyfriend.

And weird it is.

I haven’t met her new beau — we’ll call him Mr. Bear — but I’ve never seen her so bubbly and giggly, and yes, because it’s M, a little uncomfortable with the whole thing. Since I knew it was coming (something in my gut just told me so), when she arrived — grinning from ear to ear — I went for it head on:

Do you have a boyfriend? I quizzed directly. Coyly, she tucked her hair behind her ear and nodded, Yes, I have a boyfriend. He asked if it was for real — and it is!

A real relationship is exactly what she needed and though she’ll hate me for saying it on this blog – something she’s been wanting for a while. She’s flown solo for a long time – five years! – and I knew her bright, shining “one day” would come along sooner than later. I also knew it’d take a special guy who could be tender with her while also challenging her in the way that keeps her intrigued. When we were tipsy off of wine one time – we made predictions about the guy we’d date next: she said my guy would be one of those goofy, slightly nerdy, but handsome and tall and unbearably kind kind of guys. I said she wouldn’t like her guy right away (she didn’t care for Mr. Bear at first), but that his charm, his sweetness and the way they connected would bring them together. And make her eventually give in.

I like being right – but I can’t lie that when my suspicions of her new relationship were confirmed, I felt a little disappointed. Maybe disappointed isn’t the right word per se – maybe more like: Oh god! I’m the last single girl standing! What if she disappears into the couple nook and I don’t see her for months because she spends so much time with him? What if she changes from the outgoing, fun girl that makes me a better, more relaxed person into a girl I don’t even recognize? What if she starts doing double dates with all of our friends with boyfriends and I’m forever the third wheel?

What if I lose my best friend?!

But when I looked at her – blushing and probably a little nervous to tell me about her new beau –considering I’ve been in the market for one of my own for a while, too – I swallowed my pride. And instead of seeing my fears and the envy I felt boiling – I felt something different: happiness. This man has brought her something that I can’t, that I wouldn’t want to bring – and for the first time in a long time, she looked at ease. She looked like she was bursting with stories to tell, incredible new experiences to tell me about, romantic encounters that of course, she has to share with her best friend. (Especially a friend who loves love to a disturbing, addicted degree.) I saw in her what I miss feeling myself: hope. Anticipation. Excitement. Wishful thinking. Love.

And so, I stopped thinking about what I don’t have (yet) to be a great listener to someone who has always listened to me. Because though she’s my best friend, her relationship isn’t about me and the choices she makes because of it aren’t up to me, either – it’s a new unchartered territory for her to explore with someone she could one day really, truly care about. And while I may wish for something similar of my own, I more so wish for continued glee – and a very long honeymoon stage – for M and Mr. Bear.

So when do I get to meet him?? I asked, matching her smile and giving her a much-delayed hug.

I may be the last single gal standing of my group of gals – but I’m proud to stand by them. And – I guess — their boyfriends, too.

Damn Girl, You’re Lookin’ Good

Back in college, when I was wrestling with the idea of having sex outside of a relationship, a friend of mine asked me something so ordinary that it caught me off guard:

Do you find yourself sexy when you’re all alone?

It’s was an interesting concept, I thought at the time. I looked down at myself wearing a homecoming t-shirt from the year before with baggy sweatpants, my hair pulled up in a clip I’d never be caught dead wearing in New York. My makeup was smudged from the day’s wear and I had just downed at least two pieces of pizza (I won’t admit to anything higher than that). But had I needed to be sexy today?

What had I done anyway? I had gone to class wearing jeans and cute top with heels. I had met friends for lunch, had no intentions of seeing a man that evening or of taking off my clothes in any strip-pole-approved manner. It was just another day – one that ended in my dorm room, next to my friend with green eyes and flawless olive-color skin. She had back muscles – something I’m still figuring out how to develop even with my best gym efforts. I bet she always felt sexy, regardless if a guy was worshiping her or not, I thought as I looked at her. This surely wasn’t a fair question for me to answer – the me who is consistently pale and pimpley.

“I mean, I feel sexy when I dress myself up for a night out or where that little black dress I love,” I replied casually. She rolled her eyes at me in return: “No, silly – I mean when there is no intention of being with anyone or of having sex or of doing anything. Do you ever have a night in with yourself where you just feel sexy on your own?” she asked. I raised an eyebrow in return, silently questioning her. “Oh Linds, I don’t mean like that, I just mean the feeling of being sexy,” she said with exaggeration.

At that point – I hadn’t.

I only put on anything remotely sexy when I thought I would have a reason to take it off. I only splurged on lingerie when there was a special occasion or when I felt the need to up the ante with my partner at the time. I never lathered myself in lotion and expensive perfume just for the hell of it, or laid around in silk bathrobes or lace bras and panties. I didn’t walk around naked, only in my heels and look at myself in the mirror and think, “Damn girl! Look at you!”

I admitted that I don’t feel sexy alone and she made a suggestion: “When I want to feel sexy on my own, I order in a pizza and then I change into my sexiest lingerie and eat it alone on the couch with dim lighting and sensual music.” While that sounded nice, it wasn’t the way I wanted to romance myself.

And to really knock myself off my own feet, I’d have to figure out what was romantic to me. Over the course of the next few weeks when my roommate wasn’t home, I’d try different things. I’d walk around naked with stilettos. I’d eat a big bowl of pasta while wearing silk (and pray not to drip on it). I’d throw something over my lamp to make it sultry and I’d curl up my hair so it flowed around my face. I laid on my bed seductively, attempting to find a position that made me feel like a supermodel. I tried all sorts of things until none of them worked, I lost interest and forgot the conversation.

Maybe my friend had found her inner-sexy at 19, but it took me a little more time. It wasn’t until I moved, when I came home after a day of worked, followed by dinner with a dear friend and poured myself a glass of wine that it clicked. I was standing in a black skirt from work, a black lace push-up bra, my only pair of designer shoes still on, my hair naturally wavy with Merlot resting in my hand and I caught a glimpse of myself. My other hand was turning on the computer, my lips were pieced and my eyes were unusually blue for being indoors and I felt beautiful.

I finally felt sexy.

And it wasn’t that I was doing anything particularly sexy – there were no candles, no soothing music, no anything spectacular. But that was the beauty of it. That was what made it sexy. I realized that without trying, without making a big deal of it, without testing out positions or deciding if silk or stockings gave me more pin-up qualities that I was sexy. I was sexy all on my own, without doing anything at all.

So I don’t really try to romance myself anymore. I wear the right bra with the right shirt, sometimes it is lace and sometimes its not. I buy skirts that fit me, some that hug my hips more than others. I lay however I wish on my bed and I don’t think twice. And I continue to find these moments where I catch a passing reflection of myself on the street or in the privacy of my apartment that I see my inner sex goddess and that Southern drawl comes out all on its own with and it thinks: “Damn girl, you’re lookin’ good!”

If We Were Just Friends

After a slew of difficult conversations with her newlywed husband, one of my dearest friends L called me in a panic last night. Her voice was stuffy and brittle and though I’ve only seen her face-to-face once in the past year, I could imagine her scrunched face and droopy eyes. I’ve always thought her to be one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known, but she’s no chameleon – whatever she’s feeling, she wears it.

Hearing her strain to explain her frustration, I played the part of the level-headed friend who is there for her bestie when she needs her. I can’t say I approve of her husband – they met right when I moved to New York and married less than a year later. She seemed happy while they were dating and always gushing over him. When I finally was introduced to him, he was pleasant and attractive enough. Though he isn’t my type, he seemed as if he adored her and without any reservations from her end, I had no choice but to wish them well.

While the relationship is solid, life around it is affecting them. They did a lot of things at once – they said their “I do’s”, moved across the state, both started looking for jobs, and signed the lease on their first apartment. With all of these changes, it’s normal that their marriage is under stress and because of that, they’re having to figure out how to communicate with one another. You’d think the whole “talking” to your partner thing would be the easiest of all – we all have friendships where we blabber beyond end without thinking twice. Conversation comes casually and naturally and it’s something we take for granted – we’ve always been able to talk to everyone in our lives, so why are men so difficult to talk to?

It’s not they are – it’s that everything seems emotionally-connected to the relationship that any words they say (or don’t say) mean more than anything else. Like one afternoon your boyfriend is super talkative and flirty, affectionately touching you and saying the sorts of things you only hear in rom-coms and then that night, he’s a little moody and sensitive, requesting a bit of space and some time apart. Or you mistakenly set your alarm for early in the morning and it goes off, waking up your partner when it’s their only morning to sleep in the entire week. Annoyed and a little drowsy, they snap at you and roll over, breaking that peaceful nook that is impossible to replace with any “boyfriend pillow” regardless of what wonky promises infomercial make. Or after spending countless nights together, the need for a night alone outweighs that pretty little nook.

I’m not an expert at this – Mr. P can definitely testify to that. He has a tendency to slide open his other girlfriend, his Blackberry, when he can’t sleep. Having read dozens of articles about how that light is particularly harmful to your eyes when you’re trying to fall asleep, it not only keeps me awake, but I know it’s not going to make his arrival in dreamland any sooner. Instead of saying this maturely or making a joke out of it, cranky-me huffs-and-puffs and makes a silly comment, only causing him to sigh heavily – obviously annoyed. These sorts of things – like asking for room so the heart can grow fonder or a guy’s need to veg – I’ve learned how to handle better and more effectively by adopting one single phrase into my vocabulary:

What would I do if we were just friends?

Say the same situation happened while having a girl’s night with my friends. We’re all sharing a Queen or a blowup mattress and one of us can’t sleep so she pulls out her phone to Facebook or check Gmail (though it takes forever to load) – what would I say to her? I’d probably toss a pillow at her and giggle, say something about the guy she flirted with that night and tell her to play a little harder to get. She’d probably throw some playful profanity my way and shut down the phone and fall asleep. And if we woke up to the sound of someone’s alarm clock going off randomly, it wouldn’t cause an argument if we were disgruntled, it’d just be something we’d laugh about over coffee and pancakes at the diner in the morning.

These sorts of irritations and miscommunications happen all the time – but they only seem to matter when they involve someone we’re in love with. But maybe if we approached our partner as a friend, not as this loverboy who holds our band-aided heart in his hands, we’d avoid a lot of arguments. We’d be a little more understanding, lighthearted and relaxed about our relationships. We’d forgive each other easier, treat one another how we would a best friend, and stop thinking that because your guy is a guy, his reactions mean more. As far as I can tell from my own relationships, the best thing you could ever give a man is breathing room. And to you know, treat him like a dude or how you would your own friend.

Because if your boyfriend isn’t someone you’d pick as a friend if you weren’t sleeping with them or in love – then you have no business being with them to begin with. And if you can’t give your guy a break or learn how to listen more than you jump to conclusions – then maybe you’re not ready to be a girlfriend or wife. Those seem like alluring titles when you really want someone to call you yours, but once you have them – you’ve gotta remember that they take a lot of work. And that same patience you’d give your freaking-out-friend on a Sunday evening.

In fact – that same patience times a hundred. Or so.

The Gals You Just Need

I’ve talked about “just knowing” in terms of love and how I’m not sure of its validity. Though I’m far from pessimistic, the tiny dose of realism I indulge it makes me believe taking the wedded plunge is a lot like diving into dark waters, you hope you won’t hit rock bottom, but you could.

Maybe I’m wrong – there are some things I do just know. I just know I feel sexy when I lay around on a Saturday afternoon, air-drying my hair, and applying lotion to every crevasse of my body. I just know New York City is the place for me, right now, in this moment of my life. I just know nothing can comfort or soothe me the way a nice long shower feels or the smell of my mother’s Oscar de la Renta perfume, or how my dad’s arms do.

And I just know when someone is going to be a great friend of mine.

There’s no way to describe it, really – which is the same excuse those blissfully happy folks use when you ask them “how they knew” it was the right time to get married. But really, it hits you during a fluid conversation full of giggles and shared interests. Or when time passes quickly, along with workdays, and heartbreaks, when you’re around them.

For a long time, I felt very alone in New York. I had moved here, I had done what I set out to do, and I was proud. I had the apartment, the byline, and the confidence to keep pushing for more, but I was missing a critical ingredient to my happiness: friends. I remember calling my mom on a Saturday night, sobbing that I missed her and the girls I’d know my entire life, and wanted to know how to meet people I could be close to. People I could share my dating trials that I actually knew, instead of thousands of viewers who read my words, but will never see me face-to-face. I wanted someone to call after a tremendously awful date, from outside the restaurant in tears, who would meet me at a puppy store around the block with ice cream, and remind me that the reason New York is called Manhattan is partly because of all the men to pick from.

As mothers do, she told me to just wait. She said I’d find them when I least expected it, just in the way that love finds you when you’re not looking. And she was right – after I mastered my city, treated myself to great sex, – the sex and the city came together in the form of women who are so much more than replicas of the show’s characters. It wasn’t until I finally formed some friendships – some quite unexpected, some ignited years later than they could have, and some based on a certain obsession with publishing – that I finally felt like I belonged here.

Men are great and they dominate our minds and conversations more than any of us would like, regardless if we ever make an effort to correct it. Careers are challenging, changing universes we all get lost in, but if we’re lucky, make us into little stars that light up the path for someone else to follow. Cities are homes, homes are cities, but nothing is ever home-sweet-home unless you have someone to share the adventure with.

I’m not convinced a relationship is necessary to complete us and I tend to think women are total packages, independent of being in love with any man at all – but I do believe full heartedly that friendships are absolutely essential.

I can do without love. I could survive outside of New York City. I could not write anything for a year. But if I had no love, no city, no pen, and no friends – what would I be? I’d still be me, but not the best me that I can be when my ladies are by my side. And maybe you just know when someone will become a great friend, maybe you don’t. But I think you just know that you just need friends to make the journey…a journey.